Method and Madness Single Grain (Virgin Spanish Oak finish) – ‘The Factory’

Method and Madness Single Grain (Virgin Spanish Oak finish) – ‘The Factory’

The Whiskey: Method and Madness Single Grain (Virgin Spanish Oak finish) (46% abv)

Country of Origin: Ireland (County Cork)

The Location: ‘The Factory’

‘The Factory’ as we’ve come to affectionately call it, is a derelict stone processing facility hiding in suburban woodlands. The original building was built in the early 1900s to process rock for building roads from a nearby quarry. In the early 2000s the operation ceased to be profitable and was acquired by the local council – under tense circumstances.

The future of the factory is uncertain but its’ days seem numbered. A decaying eyesore it’s of no practical use and it’s unlikely that it could be converted into any alternative purpose. It may have some questionable heritage value but even this may not outweigh the issues the building poses, places as it is in a prime recreational area.

But while it remains it makes an excellent urbex (URBan EXploration) destination, with the many staircases, ladders, ramps and gantries providing for exploration in all dimensions. These are separated by void spaces and conveyers often meaning that to access a different section mere meters away requires dropping back down several levels, ducking under machinery and ascending a separate set of ladders and stairs. The higher sections give a vertiginous view of the factory’s inners while the lower spaces are shrouded in brooding darkness.

The old building has a great atmosphere, it’s creepy and ghoulish, with dim light, dark corners and Halloween perfect spider webs. But it’s also intriguing for its’ industrial aesthetic, with heavy metal plates, rusted machinery and purposeful geometry.

Although the main section isn’t enormous – it’s perhaps three times the size of an average house, the maze like interior allows for a lot of exploration. The various pieces of defunct processing equipment add interest. There’s a control room hidden to one side and a giant hopper for the incoming unprocessed stone. Conveyers crisscross and divide the space.

The various separate accessways create an Escher-like effect, but one where you can step into the frame and become part of the crazy, almost physics defying design. Extensive graffiti adds a punkish surrealist touch.

Seems like the perfect place to get a little crazy. And I have the perfect whisky for that.

Irish Whiskey made a brief resurgence recently after an Irish single malt won the prestigious World’s Best Single Malt in the 2019 World Whisky Awards (for the Teeling 24 yr old Vintage Reserve). For a little while there was a some fervor for Irish whisky with several producers releasing new expressions – either experiments, older stock or offerings that were lucky enough with the timing. Established producers also benefited from this and rightly so – the spotlight on the Teeling helped to shine a light on other great Irish whiskey producers such as Green Spot, Powers, Glendalough, Hyde, Redbreast and Bushmills (and others). Most of the attention was focused on single malts – the marketplace still favors single malts over single grains, and often for good reason. The complexity, balance and strength of a single malt often beats out the more linear and more reserved profile of many single grain whiskies. But not always and although single grains are often overlooked due to a reputation for blandness and because they can often be created relatively inexpensively in a continuous (column) still, they can be delicious – bursting with bright, sweet flavor – like candy, bubblegum and honey. They take on oak beautifully adding vanilla and wood shavings and a dryness to the finish. Many grains inherently provide flavors of cereal or baked goods – like breakfast cereals, shortbread cookies and freshly baked pastries.

Method & Madness (M&M) are an experimental arm of Irish Distillers under the umbrella of the Pernod Ricard group and are based in the Midleton distillery in county cork (the home of Green Spot, Redbreast and Jamesons – although these whiskies are produced in a range of stills on site).

The ‘madness’ is mostly about their innovative approach to distillation, blending, maturation and finishing. A great example of this is their use of unusual woods for finishing – chestnut, acacia, wild cherry… and in this case virgin Spanish oak.

This is a whiskey intended to stand out from the crowd. Normally I’m not that fussed about bottle shape or labels, but the M&M has a brilliant bottle design and is beautifully labelled. Over time I’ve come to appreciate both of these and there’s something great about wrapping your fingers around the textured octagonal bottle when you reach for it.

Another point of difference is the finishing – the whiskey is matured in ex bourbon barrels which is standard enough but is then finished for 12 months in medium toasted virgin Spanish oak (from Galicia in north western Spain).

But where it really stands out is in its’ remarkable flavor. So let’s get to it.

Aromatically the M&M gives sweet creamy candy, like a handful of jelly raspberries, Redskins and milk bottles (together). I get strong vanilla and very sweet breakfast cereal, like an overly sweet muesli or granola.

There are lingonberries soaked in vodka, dried peaches and something medical with a synthetic sweetness – berry flavored bandaids (sticking plasters) or condoms maybe. The first scoop of a crème caramel where you end up with too caramel sauce too. I find a hint of furniture polish and syrup laden dry wood – like an old feasting table with spilled butterscotch sauce. There’s a lot going on. And we haven’t even sipped yet.

On the palate it has a lightness that I associate with single grain but is much more densely flavored and complex that your average. It starts off velvety before a little tip of the tongue sharpness and a synthetic sweetness overload for a moment before the mouth filling candy comes through – jelly raspberries and strawberries & cream. Cereal notes (raspberry jam biscuits) and slightly sour oak round out the palate with the oak playing against the sweetness deliciously.

This leads seamlessly into the finish with lingering vanilla laden sweetness, almost tingling with the oakey sourness giving backbone throughout. Cherry lollies dominate at first before yielding to the oak to make the finish drier (but still sweet) finally fading out to a licorice root like dry sweetness (sensation – not flavor).

The heat is low to moderate with warmth on the swallow and a little way into the chest during the finish. It’s smoother than I expected.

What does it remind me of?

The cereal notes in this makes me think of the Suntory Chita (a Japanese single grain) but it’s very different in most other respects. There’s similarity to the Suntory Toki too ( a blend) in the mouthfeel and some flavors but the M&M has much more candy and is more flavorsome all round. The nose reminds me of the Redbreast 12 although the Redbreast is more floral whereas the M&M has more fruit and some synthetics and is sweeter.

What do I think?

Super tasty. Beautifully distinct from my single malts and even stands out from my other single grains. Something I always look forward to drinking and have a flavor echo for a couple of days afterwards.  Not a premium whisky, but I’m buying this in the $60-$80 range and it’s an absolute treat compared to the alternatives. It’s a brilliant example of what a single grain can do and a great example of contemporary Irish Whiskey, although it’s not a representative expression – go for the Killbegan single grain or Powers Gold Label instead. But in my opinion the M&M Single Grain beats each of these easily (noting that these are all in about the same price bracket). It’s the perfect whiskey for a lively chat with friends (new or old) and it has sufficient strength of flavor to be mixed without being totally obliterated. It goes well with soda, cola or good quality ginger ale. I can see it working well with some of the new premium and exotic mixers that are available. For those of you who love your whiskey neat this isn’t so pricey that you’ll screw your face up if your friends mix it – although do encourage them to try it neat, or at least on the rocks. It isn’t the smoothest whisky but it’s not aggressive and the little spikiness in this is overpowered by the abundance of flavor. M&M have done really well to keep this balanced, a common issue in single grains and especially in very flavorful single grains where among the pretty flavors lurk paint thinners and nail polish. This whiskey isn’t without those presences but they’re pushed well into the background. A little water will reduce them even further if needed. The flavors are a joy to explore throughout and it’s incredibly complex for a sub $100, no age statement whisky. It’s bursting but balanced with classic notes like vanilla, cream and cereal keeping us rooted while the lollies and synthetics make things a little wild.

This is a beautiful and I’ll say innovative expression – the use of virgin Spanish oak for finishing isn’t commonplace and Method & Madness should be recognised for taking a single grain in this direction and executing it so very well.

My expectation is that single grain whiskies with innovative finishing techniques like this will become much more common as the market cries out for value whiskies full of flavor. But for now it represents one of the more interesting options in the niche of value single grains and is well worth a look.

I find this utterly moreish, so be warned, when the bottle runs out the memory of this tasty whiskey could drive you crazy.

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